At The Tomb of the Prophet Samuel (Nabi Samwil)
Frightened by my dreams, I fled my bed.
For the soft green earth, filled with embraces;
A map as my blanket.
I have walked the mountains of Alberta,
California, and Nayarit; of Bosnia-Hercegovina,
Montenegro and Albania—and the slopes of Tien Shan,
The mountains of heaven. How often I wish I could tell you,
About them, peaks on the western border of China.
I am 57, and live only to tell that story,
Beginning in Mill Valley when I read about Samarqand,
And then read Kerouac, and Snyder, and you.
My first time in Croatia, in 1990,
The only fruit juice in the hotel bar
Was cherry – sok višniju – and for months afterward
Back in California, I sought out cherry juice
To remind me of White Zagreb, my new love.
In Bosnia the forest world begins again;
But they have gone, those giants
Who opened our path through the dense woods.
At the foot of the Black Mountains.
In Ulqin, pronounced "Ul-chin,"
Albanian wedding music pours into the night,
Sounding like Coltrane's "Ascension."
The Mediterranean world
Has her hard head in Barcelona,
Her soft heart in Rome,
Her sex, from whence life emerges
In the Balkans – I stood at her place of maximum sensitivity
At Letnica in Kosova:
The Shrine of the Black Virgin of Karadaku,
Sacred to the Gypsies and the Laramans,
That people of multiple identity, whose men were Muslim
And families remained Catholic.
The Mediterranean world
Has her feet in Istanbul and Jerusalem
One trailing in a flowing stream, one in soil,
And she has walked from the tomb of the kings of Aragon
With its Mesopotamian lions in Poblet
To the tomb of Arystanbab in Turkestan
And, at last, to the tomb of the Prophet Samuel in Israel.
She returns from the narrow back streets of Samarqand
(Where I went to the beautiful tomb of Maturidi
And my camera broke)
She sleeps in the bed that stretches from Morocco to the Holy Land.
Above her stands the star marked "Paris 1919."
She is also a tree:
The soil remains
And beneath it, the water table
For years I loved an Albanian woman, named Light.
I had secret names for her, beginning with the obvious Rosa
And leading to Svetica, a Bosnian word
Pronounced "svetitsa" and meaning halo.
In a dirt-street village in Kazakhstan
My fortune was told by an ancient daughter of the steppe.
She cast stones and one, she said, bore the face
Of the spirit that protected me. The image seemed to have hair
Exactly like that of the woman I called Svetica.
Suddenly the Kazakh woman said the word "svetitsa" in Russian,
Meaning by it, lightning, which she said was the protective spirit's name.
This occurred in the summer of 2004
And the most beautiful women in the world walked through that village;
Women with eyes like nights filled with stars;
Had any of them spoken to me I might still be there
And I pray I return to them.
Here in Central Asia I think of a Russian,
Larisa Reisner, known as a lover of poets,
And a Bolshevik. She went as far as Afghanistan.
She wrote, "Between a flat earth and a flat sky,
Smoke drifts into nothing... Smothered silence
For hundreds of miles... All fades on the steppe,
Where stones are made of moonlight and clouds petrified in emptiness...
Tashkent blazing like a dark emerald..."
I weep with grief and guilt
Over murders ordered from Tashkent, a city now repellent,
No longer adamantine, but post-Soviet and shabby –
Yet with Sufis still faithful to Hojja Yasawi,
In whose immense tomb I had recited a Kazakh prayer:
Thousands of saints in Turkestan
Thousands of saints in Turkestan
I plead for help.
Countless saints in Sairam
Thirty saints in Otrar
Most honorable Arslan Baba
I plead for help.
I know Sairam, with its gritty winds, and Otrar
Where the philosopher al-Farabi was born;
I have followed in those footsteps all my life –
From the earliest moment, a child in the Mojave –
Until I reached the border Reisner described:
"There is a silence which makes the birds dumb and the trees stop growing...
High in the pale sky a snowstorm of fighting white eagles...
in the long, hopeless clay wall, raised from the earth and splashed
By the breath of tired laden donkeys and camels –
Who can deny that here, in that exhausting, pitiless wall
There is a green window, from which one may see a garden
Hidden from view like a jewel inside a ring."
Larisa is long dead. But remembrance of God remains
Blooming like the gardens in Muslim towns
From Sarajevo to Singapore, and the Ba'alawi mosque
Where I stood at the minbar and preached about Muhammad and Moses
In spiritual celebration of The Prophet's Night Journey:
Milad Isra wa'l Miraj,
On the twenty-seventh of Rajab in the Muslim calendar.
In the lovely and tranquil city called The Hague
The Yugoslav War Tribunal investigators
Asked me about the Balkans.
Every detail of every place and name
Was there "behind my eyes," as if in a movie.
There behind my eyes, in the world of dreams
In Sarajevo, in spring 2005, surrealist magazines
Were a topic of conversation on a narrow island
Off the California coast where I lived so long
There a little train from Mallorca ran
The train on which, as a young man, I worked so long:
Still called "Northwestern Pacific"
The island people were Portuguese, intermarried
And never left there... yes, that was a dream.
And then to Warsaw, city of martyrs and angels.
I recalled the Polish Requiem of Penderecki,
Heard a decade before in its premiere
At the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico.
On Sunday night I crossed the windswept intersection
Of Jerusalem Avenue and New World Street
Where all was silent but memory, and imagining.
In Warsaw every day I ate pear yogurt
As I did a quarter century past in Barcelona,
That other capital of secret, sacred history.
But at last I return to London, and the National Gallery.
And now a Muslim, I recite Fatiha
Before Gentile Bellini's painted portrait
Of Sultan Mehmed el-Fatih, who conquered Constantinople
And thus made all possible, from Spain to California,
And from California to Albania, where all begins again.
My Sarajevo roses are a Sufi garden;
And written proofs, like the responsa of Rabbi David Pardo,
Collected as Shoshanim le-David; these are Shoshanim le-Shelomo.
So much left behind in this world;
So much I wish to forget.
And yet there stand out like islands, always islands –
Identities against the stream.
An anti-Communist renegade in California, where I stayed 48 years;
That was a whole life, now gone. Yet I remain alive.
A friend to the contras in Sandinista Nicaragua;
To the Jews and Muslims in Sarajevo;
And to Catholics in the Albanian lands.
And finally I go to Israel,
To a breezy hill and the tomb of the Prophet Samuel.
In Jerusalem, as a Muslim, I again pray Fatiha
With feet bare, like the Muslim Jew Ka'b al-Ahbar
Coming into the land with the khalifa Umar ibn ul-Khattab
Who conquered Jerusalem for Islam. The khalifa said,
"I know why you remove your sandals, on the holy soil of your ancestors."
From Umar ibn ul-Khattab Square, in the Muslim Quarter
I hear the ululations of Moroccan Jewish women at the Western Wall
And the golden trumpets of the Bukharan Jews, celebrating a bar mitzvah,
And I yearn to return to Warsaw, and Jerusalem Boulevard,
And to Montenegro, where we were prisoners of the rain.
I remember the merchant seamen of the Beat Generation,
And the navy knit caps they loved, as I love my Chechen skullcap
Of black and blue velvet, bought for a dollar at an Almaty mosque.
But television shows Hezbollah's rockets striking Tzfat,
The holy city of Kabbalists, where I hoped to reopen the mosque...
So many dreams, so much power arrayed against them.